By Allison Macsas
Those crazy runners. Who in their right mind wakes up before dawn, stumbles out the door, pushes themselves through miles of discomfort, charges up hills, splashes through puddles, dodges oblivious bleary-eyed drivers while only occasionally pausing to gulp water from a little paper cone, then returns a sweaty, smelly, gasping mess with a huge SMILE on their face? Why on earth do they DO that?
Those of us who are runners know that the real question is why WOULDN’T you do that? The benefits of running are endless and ever-expanding. They stretch far beyond just weight loss and nicely sculpted calves (although that may be what gets a lot of people started!) – many runners aren’t even aware of just how much good they are doing for themselves, they just know that they can’t stop!
So what is it that makes running stick? Aspirations of a trim waistline and taut leg muscles might provide the incentive to start, but there is a lot more that keeps us going.
Community. Runners bond with other runners in a way that can’t really be described to outsiders. The people you run with day after day become your friends, your family and, some days, become your own personal therapists. You face challenges together, reach goals together and see each other at your most unattractive state of sweatiness. There is an unspoken understanding, and it crosses all demographical and cultural boundaries – go for a run in any country on earth and you will see others doing the same, all exchanging a knowing smile.
Physical health. Running burns calories more efficiently than nearly any other form of exercise, which makes it an excellent weight loss tool. Beyond that, however, there are an unlimited number of additional (though less visible) health benefits. The heart, a very important muscle, is given a constant workout when running which not only strengthens it and prevents disease, but reduces cholesterol as the hard pumping pressure-cleans the arteries. The immune system is strengthened, guarding against everything from the common cold to cancer, and, contrary to popular belief, all of that foot-pounding actually builds bone mass and lessens the chance of osteoporosis. Additionally, feeling healthier typically leads to other healthy habits. You realize that you aren’t passing up the cheeseburger because you want to lose weight, you’re doing it because you know how much better your run (and the rest of your day) will feel without it.
Mental health. Running is largely a mental sport. Nearly anyone out there can run a marathon, but they have to have the mental fortitude to make the decision, stick with the training and carry through to the finish line. Luckily, your mental strength will increase along with the physical. Running releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones, which plays a big part in those blinding smiles that runners often have. Your mood is boosted, you’re constantly pushing your limits and achieving goals you hadn’t thought possible. You feel like you can do anything, motivation is at an all-time high and you keep going back for more! It’s the healthiest addiction out there.
Simplicity. On the surface, it may seem that running requires lots of STUFF: specialty clothing, fancy watches, strange little packets of gel, designer energy bars. While there are arguments for these things, when it comes right down to it, all you need is a good pair of shoes and the desire to get out there. You can run anywhere – on roads, grass, trails, tracks, treadmills – you just have to put one foot in front of the other. You will see new places, and see old places in a whole new way. You’ll find that running becomes a mental escape, not unlike meditation – it’s your time to reflect, no one else’s, and there’s nothing to take you away from it.
Travel. In a sense, running is the best travel companion out there. As mentioned above, you don’t need to take much, and it’s the perfect way to explore a new place. You can cover more ground than walking, yet move slowly enough to notice things you’d never notice from the window of a car. And of course, running is the perfect excuse to travel, as there are races in every corner of the world, just waiting for you to run them.
So why do runners run? In light of the points above, they’d be crazy not to.